Meeting with French Senators

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Defence and Military Veterans

04 May 2006
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Meeting report


4 May 2006

Ms TV Tobias

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The visiting French delegation was doing a study of crisis in Africa to a report back to French citizens on. The discussion focused on the role of France in Africa generally, and the Ivory Coast in particular. Committee members expressed strong views on the stance of France in Agricultural subsidies and how this impacted on developing countries. The meeting was unstructured and questions and issues were raised at random.

The Chairperson welcomed the French delegation and members of the committee. She invited the French delegates to introduce themselves to the Committee.

Senateur Maire des Deux-Sevres Andre Dulait, introduced the delegation and stated that they were happy to be in South Africa. He stated that they were in the country to make a report to French citizens on crisis in Africa. France had been involved a lot in Africa and so the citizens needed to understand the role they had been playing.

The situation had changed a lot since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many challenges and difficulties were being faced by France in terms of managing crisis on a bilateral basis. The delegation had studied what South Africa had done in managing crisis, especially in the Ivory Coast. Senateur Dulait saluted President Mbeki for the work and success in trying to solve conflict in Africa. He stated that they would then ask questions.

Senateur Dulait stated that the Republic of South Africa had committed an important number of forces in Africa, about 3000 soldiers. He asked whether voting for the military budget had given rise to specific queries and had there been a specific budget for those operations. How did South African people feel about these operations and their money being spent?

The Chairperson stated that there were two Committees represented. The Chairperson of the Joint Select Committee could not be present because of a family bereavement and so she would be chairing both committees. She stated that she appreciated the French Defence Minister being a woman. She acknowledged the role played by President Chirac in Africa.

The question of the Senateur was coming after the budget vote had been passed a month previously by vote of the National Assembly. The defence budget had been decreasing as it had been deemed not a priority in South Africa because of poverty and social development and the need to develop skills. When voting on this, there had been vibrant debate from different political parties but there had been agreement on the need to prioritise poverty, social development and development of skills and the population had been happy with the role that South Africa played in trying to resolve conflict in the continent. The budget for peacekeeping had been kept in a special defence account and the overall budget was R230 million.

Senateur Robert Hue (Member of Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs) asked if the R230 million included the salaries for the peace keepers? What was the total percentage of military in the budget? He stated that it was for the first time the French government had such an important role. Previously Africa had been the responsibility of the Executive, the President. In the past France had previously been looking at its own interest in Africa but there was definite evolution and the Ivory Coast was part of that. He asked how the attitude of France had been perceived.

Mr O Monareng (ANC) responded that South Africa appreciated all the attempts by all countries of the world, be it in Africa or the SADC region. In the past, problems of Africa had been left to other countries of the world. He stated that if there ever had been misunderstandings that came about in the past or because of the past, the South African government would be willing to understand and work towards resolving these.

Mr Z Madasa (ANC) stated that the government and Parliament appreciated the role of France in the Ivory Coast and hoped that the partnership between France, Australia and South Africa among other nations of the world could get stronger.

Senateur Yves Pozzo Di Borgo ( Senateur de Paris) stated that they should not pretend that there were no obstacles and everything had been "honky dory". He stated that they were at a turning point and it had come to the realisation of France that something needed to be done. He asked what the role of Africa in globalisation was. Europe needed to change its attitude and go deep into development. The African Union in turn had to consolidate itself and in this regard South Africa had a big role to play. How did they see this pattern?

The Chairperson mentioned that it was a very interesting question from a former member of the Communist Party. She encouraged members of the Committee to engage as these issues were important.

Mr Madasa stated that he was no longer a member of the Pan African Parliament. He had been until the previous year. In the context of that parliament, the issue of Ivory Coast and the role of France had been discussed a lot. There had been a general feeling that France had not been helpful and to a certain extent an obstacle. His personal feeling on globalization, as seen in the issue of Iraq, had been that multi-lateralism was often not consistent. An example had been when it came to the issue of agricultural subsidies, everybody knew that France was the net beneficiary and the policy was detrimental to ‘our’ development. President Chirac had been very strong to say that they would oppose any concessions by the European Union. He stated that France had been inconsistent and that he did not know if France was genuinely a partner or was just playing games.

The French Ambassador stated that only a few countries had been interested in easing trade, like France, and fostering exports. Agriculture was only one thing and taxes of imports had been lowered. Even when the WTO had ordered European Union countries to revisit their sugar policies, France had taken into account the interests of the developing countries. It was uncalled for to accuse France of being not consistent and playing games.

The Chairperson mentioned that she had erred earlier on the figures of the budget and that it was R23 billion and not R230 million as previously stated.

Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) stated that the position of South Africa and Africa was that the market should open both ways, for example China had brought into South Africa more material than people could produce. This resulted in people then losing their jobs in South Africa. The importation from South Africa to China had however not been the same. There should be a middle way where these two positions met. It was a system of haves and have-nots. Those that are developed should not force their way on the underdeveloped.

The Chairperson stated that South Africa had sent fewer troops than France on missions.

Mr L Diale (ANC) asked how many times the French Parliament sat per year. Did France support the involvement of the United Stated in the Iraq war?

Senateur Dulait stated that there was one session per year. The second question was out of the scope of their visit however the position of France was clear with regard to war. France had always expressed that they would be there once a government was put in position and asked for reconstruction help.

Mr Monareng stated that the policy position taken in Cabinet and adopted in Parliament was that defence was a national asset. Parliament in South Africa attracted public opinion by means of public hearings. This meant that the position that they took was popular position in most cases. These public hearings took place in Parliament and non-governmental organisations were given an opportunity to speak.

Mr J Schippers (ANC) mentioned that he had a learnt a lot from France as he had read the Da Vinci Code. The international debate now was on Iran and uranium enrichment. What had been the opinion of people of France and the government of France if Iran would not accept?

Senateur Dulait stated that this was once again outside the framework of his mission. He stated that their Standing Committee had not reached a unanimous decision. The question of Iran brought out a lot of difficulties. It was not easy to come to a constraintless conclusion. The French people were however not ready to go to war in Iran. The Iranian question was going to take a long time because Iran was going to have nuclear interests irrespective of what they said or not.

The meeting adjourned.


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